It's time to ease up on referees

Oct. 27—As sports fans, one of the best parts of watching our favorite teams is the chance to yell at the officials, either through our TV screens or from our stadium seats. Even when we know it's childish and immature, it provides a form of catharsis that we hope might relieve some of the stress we feel watching a game.

Unfortunately, there are far too many people who bring that same misplaced enthusiasm to high school and youth sporting events.

We need to give these officials a break.

Referees and umpires getting yelled at is far from a new phenomenon. The men and women who sign up to do these jobs know what they're getting into.

But in recent years, the treatment of officials at the lower levels of sports has only gotten worse. Not only have the verbal attacks gotten fouler, but there have been more than a few instances of physical violence directed towards referees.

The effects of this negative treatment are stark: the National Federation of State High School Associations reported that since the 2018-19 season, there has been a loss of more than 50,000 referees and umpires nationwide.

This shortage has led to widespread rescheduling, postponing, and sometimes canceling of games because there simply aren't enough referees to go around.

Can you really blame them?

Go to any high school or youth sporting event and there's a good chance you'll see all manner of outrageous behavior: yelling at a referee for a call that happened on the opposite end of the field that they couldn't have possibly seen; focusing on one specific type of call over and over even though it only happened once; screaming at an official during a game that their own team is winning by multiple scores.

The epidemic of bad fans has become so prevalent that when you go to a local ballpark or field there's a good chance you'll see a sign that reads something like this: 1. These are kids 2. This is a game 3. The coaches are volunteers 4. The referees are human 5. Your child does not play for the [professional sports team].

It seems like a simple enough thing to understand. The referees and umpires at your kids' games don't get any enjoyment out of getting a call wrong. They're not on the other team's "payroll." They couldn't care less about who wins or who loses.

Almost all of them were athletes at one time or another and do these jobs because they love sports and still want to be a part of them. Without them, there are no games in the first place.

Of course there are going to be mistakes. But it's very rare when a referee genuinely has an impact on the outcome of a game.

There was a gentleman in Oklahoma a few years ago who set up a site where he would give $100 to anyone who submitted a video of fans misbehaving at youth sports events. It's a great idea, but it's unfortunate that that's what it's come to.

If, or when, the day comes when games get canceled because there simply aren't enough referees willing to do the job, those rowdy fans will have no one to blame but themselves.

Contact Nick at nrichardson@thedailystar.com or on Twitter at @NickSonofDave